As one who supported John Bercow to become Speaker of the House of Commons in 2009 I have taken an interest in how his career has developed. It looks like he has acquired quite a few enemies (what a surprise). Back in 2009 it was understood, following the as usual unwritten convention of choosing alternating party nominees that a Tory should get the job of Speaker. But Labour MPs, suspecting their pending annihilation, at least wanted to bequeath a Speaker who had the gumption (I almost said the balls) to hold the next (assumed Tory) administration to account. All this we know, and so it turned out. Funnily enough I might have lent my support to Sir George Younger, but he was too aloof to garner support. I bumped into him once in the members’ cloakroom during the period of the contest and he didn’t think it worthwhile to simply say ‘hello would you support me?’ I am quite sure he would have made a reasonable Speaker of the old school. Perhaps he felt entitled. Anyway, in one of those curious twists of fate, a former member of the Monday Club got my vote. And he won. And, in my opinion, so did parliament. Bercow shook up the establishment and now he is paying the price.
What is this establishment? When I was there, there was no doubting the condescension of the higher up employees of the people’s elected servants towards their temporary ‘bosses.’ MPs were to be kept in check generally speaking, and the reek of convention oozed out of every pore of the beloved old palace. I am not in anyway impugning the integrity or professionalism of these public servants, but there is no doubt that particularly for backbenchers, your minor role was patronised to the hilt - to be subservient, like galley slaves in the great battle fleet of state. Naturally, such an existence could not have persisted without the connivance of senior party apparatchiks, that is those whose personal ambition bled them of any questioning spirit. Such is reality.
So along comes Bercow, who simply seemed intent on casting aside so many of the palace’s conventions. That in itself would not only be hurtful but also offensive to the custodians of the old order. Now they, the ghosts of the old order want to thrust their rusty knives into the one who sought to be that order’s nemesis. This is a rare occasion when I am fully aligned with Diane Abbott. She has wondered how a Lt. General of the British Army, who became Black Rod (the House of Lords senior official) could imagine he was ‘bullied’ by Bercow. Black Rod managed, Queens’ speech after Queen’s speech to bang on the door of the Commons and then march to the Clerk’s table and request that Her Majesty’s Honourable Commons attend the House of Lords for the big speech, and each time he was barracked in lively form by the Beast of Bolsover, Dennis Skinner—wasn’t that a form of bullying? There were no complaints. That this Black Rod now complains (loudly in the press against the possibility of Bercow’s ennoblement) merely tells me that he expects obedience, nay, discipline in the ranks, that motley crew of ungrateful, potentially mutinous disrupters who believe (depending on who has a majority) that things have to change. I would love to know what the substance of this ‘bullying’ was. What was in contention? I feel it will have been somehow related to the sheer effrontery of a diminutive pleb upstart saying no to something or other the tights-wearing Black Rod deemed of supreme, overarching importance.
The treatment of Bercow reminds me of the treatment of Julian Assange, only in respect of the malignant abuse of character appraisal (playing the man not the ball). These days, your heroes are meant to be likeable, indeed it would be preferable if they were saints albeit with some lovable humanising flaws. But they are flawed, so regardless of what they do they can be condemned for being ‘bad characters.’ I am reminded that George W. Bush was somebody who was lauded for being regarded as a person you could get on with in a bar. Look what he did.
The new Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle I doubt will have any rows with Black Rod, nor the Sergeant At Arms (the Commons equivalent with his NCO’s rank). I was very impressed by Lindsay’s smile as he played the part of ‘resisting’ his election—it put the rings of Saturn to shame. I doubt there’ll be many—or any—reforms emanating from his office. Things will be allowed to quietly settle down again whilst the government sets about ripping up parliamentary protections.
Bercow deserves his peerage (whether or not the upper chamber should continue in its current form, which it obviously will for the foreseeable future).